iOS 4 Tested: What We Like, What We Don’t

Camera, Photos, and Videos

Yes, of course the quality suffers when you use digital zoom, but it’s still nice to have as an option on iOS 4. Too bad Apple buries this option a bit. You first have to press on the screen to launch the sliding zoom control, but at least it’s pretty fluid. As expected, when we took a picture of a chair from across an office, the image became pixilated and somewhat noisy. Also note that you can’t zoom in camcorder mode.

What you can do during video recording now is tap to focus, which seemed to work well (although the iPhone 3GS does a good job autofocusing). Tapping to focus also forces you to touch the screen, which can inadvertently produce shaky footage.

Other new features inlcude the abililty to sync Faces from iPhoto and to see geo-tagged photos appear on a map in Photos. We especially like the new option to choose which size photo you’d like to send when e-mail, including full-size (great for when you’re connected via Wi-Fi.)

Spotlight Gets Web Savvy

Taking a page from the webOS playbook, Spotlight searches or no longer limited to what’s on your device. You can continue that query on the Web or via Wikipedia. So, for example, as we typed “New York Yankees” iOS 4 started to return results for things like The New York Times app and various e-mails, then displayed just the Web and Wikipedia as options. By default, Web searches use Google, but you can switch to Bing or Yahoo in the Safari settings menu.

Verdict: Palm should be flattered, or pissed (we’re not sure).

Tethering is (Finally) Here

Not only is this feature late to the party compared to other phones, it’s kind of clunky. And that’s because you have to either use a USB cable (another thing you have to schlep) or a Bluetooth connection (which can be slower than AT&T’s network). Other smart phones like the Evo 4G now offer mobile hotspot functionality, which is faster than Bluetooth and allows you to connect multiple devices to your phone at once via Wi-Fi. Should you decide to spend the $20 tethering fee, note that it will count against your data cap, which is 5GB for existing iPhone customers and 2GB for new ones. You can only use tethering with the $25 DataPro plan, not the $15 DataPlus plan.

Verdict: It’s nice that tethering is finally an option, but we prefer mobile hotspot apps to USB and Bluetooth.

Wallpaper, iBook, and Other Improvements

iOS 4 includes lots of other features that users will appreciate, including the ability to add wallpapers to your home screen. Unfortunately, this bell and whistle only supports iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and the third-gen iPod touch (just like multitasking). So you can pick anything from your camera roll. Just keep in mind that using any photo with bright colors could make it more difficult to see the icons on your home screen.

Avid readers will like the ability to download books from the iBookstore using the free iBook app, which integrates with your iTunes account. You can also store and sync bookmarks and notes for syncing across an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. You can also now open PDFs using the iBook app and store them on your virtual shelf, a nice touch.

One feature that’s not yet ready for primetime is Game Center, which is a social gaming network a la Xbox Live. In addition to inviting friends to play games, Apple promises that users will be able to start a multiplayer game through matchmaking, track achievements, and compare high scores on leader boards.

There is plenty of other stuff in iOS 4, but other notable features include the ability to create and edit playlists in iTunes, suggestions and recent searches appearing during web searches, enhanced location privacy, auto spellcheck, and Exchange Server 2010 capability.

Overall Verdict:

There’s no question that iOS 4 delivers a lot of the features people have been asking for. Apple’s approach to multitasking involves a bit of a learning curve, but it’s relatively easy to switch apps, and we’re excited to see what developers do with the new tools at their disposal. Also, e-mail now feels more streamlined, and iOS 4’s approach to folders is more elegant than the competition.

Still, there is plenty of room for improvement here, including making it easy to see all running apps at one time and closing apps with fewer steps. We’d also like to see Apple (or a third party) roll out a hotspot app, offer tighter integration with social networks like Twitter and Facebook, and offer a more subtle notification system.

Overall, iOS 4 could be further refined, but it’s fast, polished, and generally makes life easier for iPhone owners.

<< Previous Page: Introduction, Multitasking, E-mail, Folders

Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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Submit Comments

  1. TrinitiofATL Says:

    Hello I have noticed that your review is a bit flawed!
    You can just Leave Pandora running and have the phone locked
    and double tap the home button and get the pop up controls!
    So yes you can do that I do it all the time!

    “We’re not sure why the minus symbols couldn’t always be present. It’s just an extra step.”

    OK the reason the minus symbol dont just remain there
    is because well duhh do you want to accidently remove the app from the fast app switcher?
    This was there so u can switch between apps quickly!
    but if you want to remove one or all of them just do as you noted.
    But the reason why the minus is not allways shows is smart logical and duh, So you would rather look down there and see all these Icons
    with minus symbols?
    You forget the iphone is based on touch so if you have fat fingers chances are instead of selecting the app you would have removed it so thats why they made it so that if you do want to remove it you have to press and hold and then the minus comes up!
    Im amazed over why this is not understood?

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